I am a 45 year old Koyukon Athabaskan man; I am also a grandfather of two wonderful little girls and am awaiting the birth of my Grandson. I have spent most, if not all of my adult life devoted to the welfare of my people. This may be the most difficult letter or article I have ever written, in many ways this is my ultimate betrayal of what has so far been a little known secret of our people.
As a child I was severely abused. Sexual abuse started sometime before I can remember. What I do remember is horrific and honestly beyond what I wish to discuss here, not out of shame, but out of some sense of decorum and proper public conversation. What I will say is my first memories of this start when I was living in my village at about one or two years of age. I remember walking home naked and bleeding from my genitals, needing a diaper. I was told not to go to that house anymore but unfortunately this particular elder had the ability to snatch up little boys who were alone. I can write volumes and volumes on how my childhood was terrible but I will spare you that. I was never a quiet child and as a teenager I disclosed all the abuse I lived with. By this time I was living in foster care and had good access to mental health services.
As an adult I have been a strong advocate for children, first teaching hunting classes and then fostering many teenagers stuck in the OCS System. As a father I was relentlessly and tirelessly devoted to my children’s safety, especially from those who would sexually abuse them, for that was the worst kind of abuse I had suffered, superseded only by the years of silence and seeming indifference from my people.
But last November my world fell apart. My sons disclosed to me that as young children they had been molested by their grandmother’s next door neighbor. I immediately called the Fairbanks Police Department. The officer I spoke to kindly and honestly stated that in perhaps one to three years they might be able to bring this to court, but likely it would die long before it got there as too much time had passed. I posted this terrible news on Facebook stating that I wanted this man to answer to me and my family. I put out a call for anyone who wanted to help stop the raping of kids. I sought help in getting this man to come speak to me, stating that as a Christian man I wanted to help him work on repenting and changing. If that failed at least we would have a confession and a chance to better understand his failures. No one ever called him or me in fact, there was no response at all.
I went to the Church and told them this terrible story. I was told to pray and forgive him. I told them I had already done so as demonstrated by my earlier offer to help him as a Christian. There was no other response or advice from the church. Today this man walks free, he never even missed a day of work or had to say a word to anyone, he just walked away from his actions as if nothing had ever happened.
I now see, as a child molested from infanthood to age 13 by five people and even once being prostituted out for a half-bottle of Seagrams VO whiskey, that my story would never get justice. It would never be known outside my family despite this taking place in a one room cabin, it would fade away and be gone forever, like it never even happened. All who offended against me some 44 years ago have walked free, only one man was confronted by my older brother. All but one have since died and were buried with all honors due to their status as men of honor and respect. I attended some of those funerals because of the close family ties I held.
What I now understand is that my beloved people have normalized sexual abuse, we somehow failed to confront this issue and now it is as normal as Trumps endless lies and bigotry, unpleasant but just another day. I cannot count the number of times I was told to not talk about this, they say it brings shame to our people and my family. What kind of message is that to send to an abused child? The truth of my life is a shame to my people, and so I am told to hide the truth and bare the shame, on behalf of “Loving” my people. This forced silence is devastating to me; it speaks volumes of how my painful childhood at the hands of my own people is viewed, not too important, definitely not as important as the façade of village perfection. In silence I drank myself near to death, in silence I cried out my pain, in silence I held loaded guns to my head, in silence I cheated on spouses and broke hearts, in silence I perished and wandered around seeking some form of comfort.
To me, the saddest thing is when I started speaking publicly about my experience. So many people, men, women and youth would speak of their own similar experiences with childhoods full of sexual abuse and forced silence. There are villages in my area where almost every child was abused. Anonymity is not possible in regards to the perpetrators as their names and positions are readily known. Many are called “Leaders” of our people but have histories they never speak of, some histories are still going on. Through the experience of public speaking I learned that I am not the only child who learned at a young age to use rope to tightly tie the front of your pants so you can sleep in safety. One friend, who suffered through hell, shared their trick of sleeping in all their winter clothes so there were many layers to get through. These truths are whispered amongst us survivors and warriors that dare speak the truth, I count myself as testimony to the need for the truth to be known. It is only through open and honest conversations that I start to heal and become what God created me to be.
I have always judged those who remain silent, those men and women who have seen my abuse and remained silent are my people. I think they do not know me because they have never listened to me, they hear my words but do not change. We have a “War on Drugs and Alcohol” sanctioned by a nonprofit resolution, declared in writing on a nice piece of birch bark all native looking and important seeming. Yet, years after this declaration of war, I find no action. There are no sexual abuse survivors groups, no classes, no hotline, and no meaningful infrastructure at all. Soon after finding out my two sons were abused I went in for a mental health evaluation. I was told they may be able to see me next year; but in the meantime they gave me a bottle of anti-anxiety pills. Unfortunately, my issue was emotional distress over the molester of my sons walking free, not anxiety.
We have millions of dollars pouring into our villages and non-profit organizations in Fairbanks, yet we cannot even tell a known child rapist to please stop. No one seems to be able to link the fact that normalizing child abuse and rape can and will lead to social issues such as drugs and alcohol, crime and violence, depression and death and whatever evil condition that we can speak of. To me it is obvious, if we want better people we must stop the rape and molesting that is prevalent in our culture, yet this fact seems to be new and startling to some, perhaps what I am seeing is terror of me doing something like writing this article.
I feel adrift, after a lifetime of devotion to something, I find myself contemplating what else I can do. Honestly the human part of me would love to pour my 45 years of rage on this poor man who dared hurt my boys and cross me; but I know that he was molested as well; he reports being molested by “Elders” in a village close to Fairbanks. There was an investigation and so far everyone is still walking around doing whatever they wish. I am pretty sure this man will offend again; I know that one man who molested me molested another boy. I was 23 when that young man killed himself, I knew why because I knew who he was hanging around with and who was close to him. Sometimes I wish I was a boy again, just so that I could defend myself properly and kill a few of those people, especially the one that got a hold of that young man as his suicide weighs heavy on me. I never talk about it because I do not want to say his name out of respect. He carried his secret to his grave so I guess it is one more story lost to time and silence.
This article is not meant to offend anyone or bring any shame to my family or my people, it is a simple cry against the silence and indifference I have lived with for a lifetime, it is one more shout into the darkness against an enemy that no one but I seem to be able to see. It is a call to action for those who care enough to fight for more than what we have, to not settle for “Best practices” in mental health that has so far failed to halt the abuse. To not turn to prayers alone in the face of obvious evil that leaves deep spiritual scars, but also, for many, a lifelong struggle with emotional and physiological issues; while prayer cleanses the spirit, inaction befouls the secular. Most, this article is for those who remember terrible things like I do, it is to say, silence is not honorable to bare, for it is not honorable to bare another’s shame. If there is shame in the truth, we do not “bring” it, we expose it, and when exposed shame must fade, hiding the truth only furthers the shame. And if our silence continues and we pass on, we will carry the shame of knowing that we too remained silent while our children were savaged.